Hello again! In case you were unaware, this is the second half of my Bavarian adventure. If you missed part one, here it is. Our 3 remaining days in Munich were spent almost entirely at Oktoberfest. While I would love to talk about those days in detail, I’m going to write a separate article as an Oktoberfest guide. Look out for that soon.
When it had come time to leave Munich Tuesday morning, we wanted to switch up our mode of transportation. I had always heard mythical tales of the German Autobahn, so I had to check off that bucket list item by renting a car and driving on the fabled highways. We got a nice upgrade to a 6-speed Volvo V40 station wagon and set our sights to the southern tip of Bavaria. In case you don’t know what’s so special about the Autobahn, there’s really only one thing you need to know: in certain sections there is NO speed limit! NONE! NEIN! While in America such a lack of restrictions would result in 1,000’s of daily deaths, drivers in Germany follow basic rules like only using the left lane for passing. If you’re not passing someone, you don’t drive in the left lane. And you never pass someone on their right. Basic courtesy goes a long way towards making the Autobahn safe. I wanted to hit 200 KM/H in our rental, but when a long and not busy enough stretch of road presented itself, I found out that the Volvo had a speed governor set at 199 KM/H. In America speak that’s nearly 125 MPH. I often cruised for 15-20 miles at ~100 MPH, and multiple times I was rapidly passed while going 110 MPH. There’s a reason German cars are built for performance. Despite the Swedish Volvo restricting my max speed, it was still a joy to drive on the Autobahn. One thing I did notice was a lot of construction. When you have people regularly driving 120-150+ MPH on your highways, you can’t afford for potholes or any poor driving surfaces to develop. This would often put a damper on the driving experience, and harrowingly tight construction lanes gave me white knuckles and cursing fits on multiple occasions. While I don’t agree with the author’s premise, this article gives a good summation of what I’m talking about.
Anyways, enough of my Autobahn romanticizing. After a mostly lovely drive down south, Tuesday afternoon we arrived at castles. As an American, castles are things of fairy tales only seen in Disney movies or heard about through world travelers. Well apparently they are real things that real people USED TO live in. This kind of opulence eventually fell out of style, but fortunately the incredible structures still exist for tourist perusal. Outside the city of Fussen, two castles previously inhabited by King Ludwig II, the Mad King. are located very close to each other and offer great tours. The first castle we toured, Hohenschwangau, was Ludwig’s childhood home. While not as grand or opulent as some others, it was nonetheless an amazing castle fit for a king.
Throughout the tours, the guides offered stories about Ludwig’s life and eccentricities. It was a fascinating viewpoint into a strange and powerful man. What was to be Ludwig’s crowning achievement was the Neuschwanstein Castle, created as an homage to the German composer Richard Wagner. It is quite literally a fairy tale castle: Cinderella’s castle was based on its design. It sits high atop a rock outcropping overlooking the land below it. Ludwig lived in the castle for less than half a year before his mysterious death. The castle was unfinished at the time, and it was never completed according to his original plans. Less than half of the castle’s rooms were ever furnished. Before beginning the tour, we had some liquid libations. I had a crisp Warsteiner Pilsner, and Danielle warmed herself up with gluhwein, a mulled wine made with red wine and various spices.
The castle tour takes you through most of the finished rooms, and you can almost imagine yourself living the good life of the 1850’s. The views looking out of the castle are absolutely breathtaking. Danielle and I took tons of pictures, but I’ll only burden you with a castle selfie taken from the bridge a short walk away.
After a day of driving and castle touring, we headed to our hotel in Fussen to settle down and then do a brief tour of the city. The city is not large, so we were able to walk through most of it in a shortened time frame. The old cobblestone streets obviously designed way before the automobile were quaint, and the city was pretty empty once you moved beyond the few restaurants still open. Even though the High Castle was not open, we were able to walk around the grounds and admire the massive structure. After wandering about the city, we were ready for some grub. Remember my newfound love of jaegerschnitzel? The craving had returned, and we found a German restaurant that could satisfy my needs. Gasthof Krone was a cozy spot which seemed to be occupied by mostly locals. I had a tasty Dunkelweizen from Konig Ludwig to go along with my meal. I mean, look at the below plate of German glory! After dinner it was bedtime in prep for our last full day in Germany.
We left the hotel early because we had one more castle to visit. During our drive, we briefly entered Austria and encountered one of the most stunning panoramas I’ve ever seen. We had to stop the car to soak it all in and naturally take some pictures.
The water was one of the most clear yet intense blues I’ve ever seen. With the snow-capped mountains in the background, I was absolutely in awe of our view. Once the amazement slightly wore off, we finished the drive to Linderhof Palace, the smallest and only fully completed of Ludwig’s castles. This was where Ludwig spent the majority of his time, and the palace grounds were the best manicured of the castles we visited. There is a whole large complex which you can walk around and visit various lavishly decorated buildings. There were beautiful gardens and water fountains galore. The underground grotto was being renovated, so we did not get to explore that. Danielle did a pretty good job of capturing the beauty surrounding Linderhof.
With our castle viewing desires fully satisfied, it was northward bound to the medieval city of Bamberg. Most of the city has been labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is one of the oldest surviving medieval cities in Germany. Walking around town is seriously taking a step back in history. Bamberg is also home to the rauchbier style, a smoky lager that gets its distinctive flavor from malted barley that is dried over an open flame. There are around 9 breweries in Bamberg all making rauchbier, and the most famous of those is Schlenkerla whose beer can be found in the US. Since we’re all about history, Schlenkerla was naturally our first destination after arriving into the city. Set amongst the cobblestone streets, the brewery / restaurant has a great vibe as many local townspeople gather outside and drink their beer on the street and at small tables. I opted to drink the Rauchbier – Weizen, a hybrid rauchbier and hefeweizen. While smoked beer is not my favorite, I really enjoyed the mindfuck that is a light bodied smooth hefeweizen combined with a distinct smoky flavor. Danielle had the classic Rauchbier, dark and malty with the liquid equivalence of a cigar thrown in for good measure.
We had arrived into the city too late to do any official tours, so we made up our own while walking around. The Bamberg Cathedral was a beautiful imposing structure rising above the city. Because we are nothing but if not classy, we drank beer while walking around and included said beer in our photos.
Feeling adventurous, we decided to make the walking trek up to Altenburg castle, a medieval fortress situated high above the city on a hilltop. There is an excellent walking trail that snakes its way up to the castle, and I highly recommend anyone that visits take that path. Despite the chilly temperature, I worked up a good sweat while hiking to the castle. Once we arrived, we were greeted by an almost empty castle open for exploration. Seeing a bell tower, we had to make the climb to get an unfettered view of the city and surrounding land. We deposited our Euros in the honor system box and climbed up the stairs. It was refreshing to not encounter any other people at the bell tower: it was all ours! The 360° view was incredible as we were able to see the entire city, a nearby city, and surrounding farmland.
While we could not go into the castle, we walked all around it and even met a cute castle cat! We found out that there was venue space at the castle and imagined how badass it would be to have a castle party. Who’s down to join us?
After walking back to the city, we stopped into a tapas spot to grab a small bite to eat and grab some happy hour drinks. Bolero had some very strong and nicely priced cocktails, and the tapas hit the spot. While not authentic, they were perfect as a pre-dinner snack. Next spot was another brewery, Klosterbrau. Once again, they specialized in rauchbier. I tried the Schwarzla, a fairly light tasting schwarzbier. An Italian dinner was had at an unremarkable restaurant whose name is not worth remembering. Danielle did booze very well though.
Before we headed in for the night, we wanted to check out a nightlife spot. Even though it was a down time of the year as students were not in class, there was still a small area of town that was pretty lively. A simple Google search helped us to discover Schluckspecht, an awesome speakeasy style bar. The entire bar is one tiny and cozy room, and during the week it’s manned by a single bartender. When we arrived it was jam packed, but as two larger groups left it suddenly became just Danielle and myself alone with the bartender. He was very friendly and made us some killer Old Fashioneds. I really dug the vibe of the place and wouldn’t have been surprised if we had been transported to some uber hip pocket of Brooklyn or San Francisco. For anyone who enjoys a nice cocktail in a classic cozy speakeasy setting, this place is a must visit in Bamberg.
Thus had concluded our last night in Germany as it had gotten late and we wanted to get some rest. Our final day was fairly uneventful: wake up, drive to Frankfurt, have an adventure trying to figure out a German gas station, have another adventure trying to figure out how to drop off our rental car, and then make it to our flight. Our Bavarian trip had come to an end, and I had certainly developed a love for this part of Germany. What had began as a simple desire to go to Oktoberfest had turned into an awesome tour, and I will certainly be back to some of these places in the future. Be on the lookout for my Oktoberfest guide to be released in the next couple weeks. I’ll teach you what to do, what not to do, and overall how to survive. Until then, prost!